April 6, 2017

Wildfire Relief: Kentucky farmers reach out to help

From The Farmer's Pride
By Allison Shepherd

Wildfires ravaged nearly 2 million acres of farmland in four Midwest states, killing six people, killing livestock and destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of ranchers. The early March fires are over, but it will take time for producers to recover. This week, fellow farmers in Kentucky stepped up to help with the healing process.

When one person in Breckinridge County asked the question, "How can we help?" Extension agent Carol Hinton said, "We all talked and decided to reach out to someone that needs it, making a direct impact."

A local radio station aired a segment about the fire with Bobby Bell, president of the Breckinridge county Cattlemen's Association, which soon made the connection a reality.

"James and Shelby Stephens came to bring me funds to help with the wildfire Relief effort. While we were taking, they told me Shelby's uncle was directly effected by the fires out near Kansas," said Bell. The Stephens' are from Big Springs, Kentucky and Shelby's Uncle Larry Harvey and family's loss was overwhelming. The Harvey's didn't lose their home but the fires burned right up to the front yard.

The Breckinridge Cattlemen's Association stated a donation drive through social media, then Bell and Hinton reached out to Extension agents in the region. Donations, materials and those wanting to help multiplied.

Keith Rogers, chief of staff for Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles stated, "When you stop and look at agriculture as a whole, nationwide, we are one big family. What do families do when there is a crisis or disaster? They come together to support each other. It's hard to believe the magnitude and scope of what really came out of the wildfires in the four states. All in all people have a good heart; they care about their fellow man, care about the colleagues in agriculture. This is a perfect example of what can happen when our agriculture leaders put their thinking hats on and ask how we can coordinate something to help."

Dave Maples, executive vice president of the Kentucky Cattlemen's Association, was with members of the Kansas and Oklahoma Cattlemen's' association last week in Washington, DC. Maples commented they have been surprised how much has been donated to help their farmers.

"Daviess County went out last week, Union County is working on a group, there is an eastern Kentucky group working on putting funds together; and then here we are today. I'm so proud of Kentucky."

More than 250 community volunteers, homemakers, and agriculture leaders came together Saturday to load donations, provide breakfast, and to pray over the effort of those who were involved in donating, transporting, and for those who would receive the donations. Local cattlemen's groups involved in Saturday's event included Spencer, Meade, LaRue, Hardin, Breckinridge, Grayson, Hancock, Ohio, and Bullitt counties, as well as donations from Tell City and Dale, Ind.
Chuck Crutcher, KCA president and Hardin County farmer, said this is a perfect example of 'cattlemen helping cattlemen.'

"It becomes personal; we don't envision wildfires in our area, but when we've had destruction from drought and tornadoes, others chose to help us. Paying back or paying forward, that's what we are supposed to do as Christians. We just have to step up. A rancher's lost cattle are not the big picture here; it pales at the magnitude of knowing if his grassland wasn't burnt off, they lost all their equipment, their storage, their homes, and their livelihood."

Shelby Stephens was overwhelmed by the effort.

"This is such a blessing that folks are coming together to help. Something good is coming out of this effort. Politics are set aside, and when we talked with Bobby, he jumped in and said, 'give me their information.' The amount of care and love is unreal. I can't put into words, it's so appreciated."
Bell said the effort came together quickly.

"I made the phone call to the Harvey's and the next thing we knew, we are putting together this effort to assist this family and that area, and within 10 days this day is happening with around $75,000 in donations being sent directly to Kansas."

There ranchers will benefit from the proceeds from this weekend's effort.

"I knew that is in the Lexington community, but it was neat when I found out the actual name of the town was Protection, Kansas," said Bell. "Others receiving these donations are neighbor ranchers to the Harvey's, and one has ties to the cattleman family in LaRue County as well. It makes it special that we have those connections."

Local producers and local trucking companies provided the transportation of square and round bales of hay, fencing materials, fence posts, gates, and other items needed for these farmers to start rebuilding. All in all, 11 semis and flatbed trucks left from Hardinsburg around 10 a.m. EDT. Later that evening, Bell reported loading two more loads of 600 fence posts headed to the same location.

Kenny, Sandy, and Thomas Compton from Breckinridge County were part of the convoy traveling to Kansas. The Compton's will stay for several days to assist farmers of Protection, Kansas. When asked what their plans were, Sandy stated, "Doing whatever they need; posts dug, wire strung, just whatever they need help with. We're taking only our hands and that's about all."

She emotionally shared the words on a t-shirt that drove home the point of her wanting to be involved. "I was born to be a FARMER; to hold, to aid, to farm, to inspire. It's WHO I AM. My calling, my passion, my life and my world."

Donations are still being accepted. For more information, contact Bobby Bell at 270-547-8547.

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